HL Deb 17 February 1970 vol 307 cc1081-6

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1970, a copy of which has been laid before this House on January 22, be approved. The Memorandum explaining the effect of the Order and a general explanatory booklet on goods vehicles drivers' hours are available in the Printed Paper Office. This Order is made in exercise of my right honourable friend's powers under Section 96(12) of the Transport Act 1968 to make certain modifications to the requirements of Section 96 of the Act as they affect drivers of goods vehicles. A separate Order has been laid before the House for passenger vehicles. Section 96 of the Act sets out the permitted driving times and periods of duty of drivers of goods and passenger vehicles, but the Order dealing with passenger vehicles will be moved in your Lordships' House on another occasion. To-day, we are dealing only with goods vehicles.

The House will remember that my right honourable friend's predecessor announced in another place, in a Written Answer on July 25, 1969, that Part VI of the Transport Act 1968, which deals with drivers' hours and records, should be brought into effect on March, 1970. Briefly, the Order, if approved, will have the effect of virtually exempting certain people, like doctors, midwives, window cleaners and maintenance engineers, from the drivers' hours rules when they choose to travel in estate cars or light vans instead of in the normal private cars. These people are not really goods vehicle drivers at all, and the rules were never intended to apply to them. The Order also includes a concession to drivers engaged in building construction and civil engineering work, so that time at the wheel while off the road—I stress "off the road"—will not count as driving time. Other exemptions and concessions are contained in the Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Exemptions) Regulations 1970 which were laid before the House on February 10.

In case noble Lords should wonder why the exemptions are split up in this way between this Order and the Regulations I have just mentioned I should explain that Regulation-making power is confined to emergencies and other cases of special need, while the Order-making power is intended for more general exemption and for modifying the provisions of Section 96. In the debates which took place in both Houses on the Transport Bill, and during extensive consultations with over 200 representative organisations after the Act was passed, a formidable number of claims for exemption and concession from the general rule were made, covering virtually every section of the industry.

To meet all these would in my view make nonsense of the whole legislation and would reduce considerably the benefits accruing from the Act. Even so, a considerable concession was made by my right honourable friend's predecessor during the Committee stage of the Transport Bill in another place when, to help all concerned to adjust to the proposed reductions in drivers' hours, he announced that the general reductions would be made in two stages instead of one. My right honourable friend has had the task of studying all the claims made for exemption and concessions with a view to allowing only those which are genuinely needed to prevent a serious breakdown in the existing transport services. A number of concessions of this kind are being provided.

My Lords, I turn to the Order itself. Articles 1 and 2 are purely formal. Article 3 provides the exemptions for the people I mentioned at the outset. My right honourable friend has been persuaded by the arguments advanced during the passage of the Transport Bill through Parliament, and in subsequent consultations with representative organisations, that the full force of the drivers' hours limits ought not to be imposed on people who drive only light vans for purposes not including the general carriage of goods. Among these are doctors, nurses, midwives and veterinary surgeons, repair mechanics, window cleaners and so on, who use a small van or an estate car for their work where others might well use a private car. Also in this class are commercial travellers carrying samples or advertising material, and road patrols of the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and the Scottish Royal Automobile Club, who, though they sometimes carry a spare can of petrol and tools, do not carry goods in the normal sense. The Minister has no powers under Section 96(12) of the Act to exempt these drivers from a daily limit of 10 hours upon their actual time at the wheel, but I do not think this is likely to be restrictive in practice.

Article 4 of the Order deals with the concession to the building and construction industry. The House will recall that Section 96(9) of the Act continues the present concession for the, driving of vehicles elsewhere than on the road in the course of operations of agriculture and forestry. This concession is designed mainly to enable time lost in the winter months, when vehicles often cannot go on the land, to be made up when the weather is more favourable. The Order provides a similar concession for vehicles used elsewhere than on the road in the building and construction industry, which is also subject to the vagaries of the weather.

A concession of this kind was asked for when the Transport Bill was before Parliament, and while my right honourable friend's predecessor made it clear during the Report stage in another place that such concessions as were given would be few, he said that where there were particular problems they would be considered. My right honourable friend in fact quoted the building industry as an example of an area in which the Minister could, if he thought fit, in the light of representations, make exemptions.

Since the Act was passed, the Ministry have had meetings with representatives of the building and construction industry, and my right honourable friend is satisfied that some alleviation of their problems is justified. The concession means that driving in the building and construction industries on the site and off the highway will not count towards the 10-hour daily driving limit in Section 96(1) of the Act. Nor will such driving count in computing the limit of 4 hours driving in any day, which is the point at which a driver becomes subject to the drivers' hours rules. Thus a driver in the building and construction industry will not be subject to the rules unless on any day he spends more than 4 hours driving on a road. Some noble Lords may feel that the exemptions do not go far enough, but they do represent a considerable concession to the interests concerned. We believe that a fair balance has been struck between the competing claims and the necessities of the Act. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1970, laid before the House on January 22, be approved.—(Lord Shepherd.)

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his explanation of this Order, which provides exemptions from the new drivers' hours due to be brought into effect on March 1, and also for explaining the difference between this Order and the Regulations which are outlined at the back of the guide that has been produced by the Ministry of Transport. This difference was certainly not explained in another place, and the noble Lord has now made it clear to us.

Article 3 of the Order surely deserves a qualified welcome. The Government have accepted that the limits for drivers' hours should not apply to certain people who drive light goods vehicles for purposes not including the general carriage of goods. But it is perhaps open to doubt whether the list of those exempt is in fact comprehensive enough, and I feel that it may plunge the rules as they will affect dual-purpose vehicles, into deeper incomprehension. But I know that the intention of Her Majesty's Government in this matter would have been gladly welcomed by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, who attempted to persuade the Government, by Amendments during the Committee stage of the Bill, to accept exactly these points which are put forward in Article 3. My noble friend regrets that illness prevents him from being in the House this afternoon.

Article 4 will allow drivers of goods vehicles in the construction trades to drive on a site off the highway for any length of time without this counting towards the limits now to be imposed, and again we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for explaining exactly how this will affect such drivers. Your Lordships may recall that in this House during the passage of the 1968 Act the Government accepted the need to give this exemption to forestry as well as to agriculture, but denied in Committee in this House that similar exemption was appropriate or necessary for the construction industries. Therefore your Lordships will have been particularly interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, this afternoon making the point about making up time on such sites when the weather is good —a point with which we cordially agree.

Many noble Lords warned the Government in 1968 that this exemption would be a practical necessity and that the rules here would in fact be unenforceable, a point which seemed to me to become more obvious when, during the passage of the 1968 Act, the Government came down against the use of tachographs. Now Her Majesty's Government have accepted that the general concept in this field is impracticable, and many noble Lords suspect that there are many other cases where the impracticability of the new rules is going shortly to be revealed.

That leads me to ask one or two brief questions of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. Do the Government really think that the lists of exemptions in Article 3(2)(a) and (b) are complete? In another place the Minister was asked why child-care officers had not been included. The claim of probation officers could equally be advanced in your Lordships' House. Often such people carry goods related to their professions in light vans or dual-purpose vehicles. Here comes an associated point, which I must say makes the matter to me even more muddled. How on earth can drivers' hours be enforced in respect of dual-purpose vehicles when all these are, by Government policy, to be exempt utterly from the new quality licensing system, the operators' licensing, when it comes into force? How are the police to distinguish between noble Lords who drive into London in estate cars carrying nothing and other noble Lords who carry goods connected with the businesses in which they happen to be engaged? How are the police to know when such goods were loaded or off-loaded?

All these matters, and many more, will be relevant, because by Government policy these vehicles are not to be separately licensed when the operators' licensing comes into force; and I suspect that it may well be that eventually dual-purpose vehicles and light vans will have to be exempt from Part VI of the 1968 Act.

May I also ask the noble Lord to throw a little more light on the exemption which is afforded to commercial travellers under the Order? Certainly in another place the Minister was most helpful in trying to clarify this, but Mr. Mulley also said that observations of Ministers are not necessarily of interest to a court. Indeed, they are not; but in such cases it is the Ministry who is prosecutor, and I feel that the Government have a responsibility to explain a little more precisely how far the commercial travellers' exemption extends. All are grateful for this guide which the Ministry of Transport have issued, but whether 20 pages of closely set type sets the matter out clearly, as the Minister believes, or is a reflection on the unnecessary complications of legislation under this Government, as we on this side believe, is a matter of opinion.

Lastly, may I ask the Government whether an undertaking can be given now to watch how these Regulations develop? For at the end of the day what is the principle behind Articles 3 and 4 of this Order? Is it not simply a question of expediency? Therefore, will the Ministry keep a flexible approach in enforcing Part VI of the Act in the early stages after March 1; and will the Government be prepared to introduce further exemptions if such are found to be necessary?